Europe's economy is struggling, but that's good news for Australians heading to the previously expensive continent. Shaney Hudson takes a look at five cities where your strong Aussie dollar will go further.
Everyone loves a bargain. But finding a destination in Europe that provides value, even with a strong Australian dollar, can be tricky. There are plenty of cheap cities and places to stay across the continent, but cheap can sometimes mean isolated, a little dull and at worse, a little nasty.
With that in mind, here are five European destinations that will not only to provide value for money, but also offer value for experience- cities that are affordable but have the personality, history, and atmosphere to help you make the most of your time on the continent.
The luxury option
While Budapest is not quite as trendy as it was five years ago, Hungary's crippled economy has pushed the city back on to the radar as one of the best value cities to visit in Europe. The Hungarian Forint has hit record lows, with one Australian dollar worth Ft226- a 15 per cent gain by our dollar on the same amount this time last year. This makes Budapest one of the best places to shop in Europe. Major chain stores along the Vaci Utca pedestrian shopping street are full of bargains, while the antique shops of Falk Miksa Street continue to offer antique treasures at affordable prices.
But while Budapest might be cheap, it still has a lot of class. Alongside it's UNESCO-listed castles and forts, its stunning swimming baths and picturesque location on the Danube, a dearth of luxury accommodation has resulted in the city offering some of the lowest five star hotel rooms in the world - making it the perfect place for those with champagne taste.
Nearby: The city is a comfortable 3-4 hours by train from Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria, making the three very different cities easily explored in a single visit.
More Information: www.budapestinfo.hu
The historical rebel
Athens might have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, but make no mistake- the city is still open for business. “Demonstrations are planned in advance and times posted so they can easily be avoided” says Matt Barrett of greektravel.com, a blog focusing on travel in Greece. “When they end the cafes in Syntagma Square open up and it is life as normal”.
The euro crisis and negative media attention has seen accommodation prices falling in Athens as hotels try to lure visitors back to the Greek capital. However, demand is seasonal and bargains will still be hard to find during July and August, the country's peak travel period.
Athens's main attraction is its incredible architectural ruins, which are included in one handy €12 ($A16) admission ticket, which covers the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora of Athens, Hadrian's Library and other key sites from Ancient Greece.
Across the city, food is reasonably priced, with meals going for under €20 in taverns and restaurants, although budget friendly gyros, (better known as kebabs in Australia), are a tasty and affordable way to eat during the day at €1- €2 each.
Nearby: The real reason to come to Athens? It's the gateway to the Greek Islands, where prices have fallen significantly (except in Santorini) for package deals and sailing trips, making it an ideal time to explore one of Europe's most exclusive holiday areas.
More Information: www.visitgreece.gr
The next big thing
The city by the sea is set to explode as Europe's next big destination- and if you head there now, you'll find out why. Relatively isolated from the rest of Europe, Portugal's capital is visually gorgeous, filled with distinctive neighbourhoods, seaside fortifications and whitewashed buildings that slope towards the sea. While its cobbled streets and steep hills won't be kind to your feet, the city will be kind to your pocket.
“Lisbon is one of the most budget-friendly destinations in Western Europe” says Regis St James, author of Lonely Planet's Portugal guide. “You can eat well for under €10 at a local family-run restaurant, with good inexpensive wines by the glass to be had for about €2. Transport is cheap tram or metro in a big city like Lisbon”.
The city offers a good mix of three- and four-star hotels at rates well below that of other Western capitals, with the rates remaining stable over the last 12 months in the city.
Nearby: Portugal is a country blessed with an abundance of sun, and a number of top beach resorts are located within a short bus or train ride of the capital.
More Information: www.visitlisboa.com
The good time
All of Spain's major cities, including Barcelona, Seville and Madrid are strong contenders as value destinations. But it is Madrid, with its rich cultural treasures, welcoming atmosphere and incredible nightlife that pushes ahead to be Spain's top value pick.
“I love the spontaneity” says Annie Bennett, author of the National Geographic Traveler: Madrid Guide. “Madrid is not a city where people like to plan things three weeks in advance. Most people who live in Madrid are from somewhere else, which creates a very open, welcoming vibe - and that extends to anyone just visiting for a few days”.
For those that like to party, drinks are cheap in Madrid, with a glass of wine or beer in a bar costing you under €2. At lunchtime, restaurants are required by law to offer a set-menu 'Menu del dia'- normally two courses and coffee, for around €10 or €15.
While Madrid offers great value in terms of hospitality, for culture vultures it's also a top destination. Both the Prado and Rein Sofia, home to exquisite collections of art by artists like Miro, Dali and Goya, offer free admission in the evenings, while some, like the Caixa Forum, are free every day.
Nearby: Madrid is well connected by fast train to Barcelona, Valencia and Seville in under three hours, with the cheapest tickets on sale 60 days before departure. See www.renfe.com
More Information: www.esmadrid.com
Krakow, the second largest city in Poland, is the dark horse of Eastern Europe. Emerging relatively unscathed from World War Two, the city offers the visitor a surprising beauty lost in other Polish cities - and does so at the country's legendary bargain prices.
“There's a lot you can do that doesn't cost much, because it's such a great walking city with loads to look at as you stroll; a fantastic castle, a beautiful Old Town undamaged by war, a great bar scene” says Lonely Planet Poland author Tim Richards, “but really it's the vibe, the perfect blend of relaxed modernity and deep history you can sense in the city's streets.”
According to recent Hotel Price Index figures, hotel prices in Krakow have dropped four per cent in the last year to $US112 per night, making it an even more affordable option for visitors. Public transport is cheap, although most attractions can be navigated on foot. Food and drink is also relatively affordable.
“To keep costs down” advises Richards, “ look for pierogi (dumplings), excellent Polish soups such as zurek, and fine Polish beer or vodka to wash them down”
Nearby: Krakow is around 50 kilometres from Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Although draining, if you're in Krakow you shouldn't miss it (see www.auschwitz.org).
More Information: www.krakow.pl